Statewide Initiatives

Washington voters will decide on a sales tax decrease and whether to implement state penalties for animal trafficking

There are two statewide initiatives before Washington voters in the November election.

The first is a Tim Eyman-backed measure that would decrease state retail sales taxes by a penny for every dollar, resulting in $8 billion in revenue taken out of the state budget over the next six years.

If Initiative 1366 passes, the state legislature would have two options: Lawmakers could allow taxes to decrease, or they could send a constitutional amendment to voters in November 2016 requiring two-thirds approval in both chambers or voter approval to raise taxes.

Currently, the legislature needs a simple majority vote to raise taxes, according to the state constitution; this initiative would make it more difficult to do that. Voters have approved initiatives requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes several times before, beginning in 1993 and most recently in 2012. However, in 2013, the state Supreme Court ruled that a two-thirds vote to raise taxes is unconstitutional.

The Spokane City Council recently passed a resolution opposing the initiative. State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, voiced his support for the council's concerns.

"This is potentially $8 billion in cuts to our state's budget and one of the primary revenue sources for institutions of higher learning," he said. "It would be a roadblock to making government fair for local families and businesses."

He also pointed out that the initiative would cut money needed for the state to comply with the state Supreme Court's 2012 McCleary decision calling for adequate public education funding.

Councilman Mike Fagan spoke out in favor of the initiative at last week's council meeting, saying it would rein in unnecessary state spending. He added that one of his proudest achievements as a councilmember was promoting a tougher-to-raise-taxes city charter amendment in 2012, which passed. The amendment raised the number of council votes required to levy or increase taxes, but has had little impact due in part to the council's strong liberal majority.

"I firmly believe that all taxpayers will benefit if the entire state adopts the same permanent protection Spokane already has," says Fagan, who abstained from the city council's resolution vote because his political action committee helped collect signatures for the initiative.

Initiative 1401

Initiative 1401 would outlaw the sale or trade of items made from certain endangered or nearly extinct animal species and stiffen penalties on the state level.

The initiative specifically names tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, rhinoceroses, marine turtles, sharks, rays and pangolin (more commonly known as scaly anteaters), all of which are threatened with extinction in part because of the demand for their body parts.

Those caught trafficking endangered animal parts could face a maximum penalty of $10,000 and up to five years in prison, depending on the value of the item. Bona fide antiques or musical instruments made of less than 15 percent of endangered animal parts are exempt.

Opponents of the initiative, which include the National Rifle Association and antique collectors, say it goes too far in penalizing people who have purchased items legally and provides no indication that it will have any impact on curbing illegal poaching in other countries. According to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action's website, the initiative is another attempt by "anti-gun elitists" to take away arms with ivory built into the handles.

Stuart Halsan, a former Democratic state legislator and antique collector, opposes the initiative in part because of the narrowly defined exemptions. Halsan's collection of Civil War relics with ivory elements, for example, would become illegal to sell unless he could prove they were at least 100 years old, which he says he can't do.

"This initiative makes illegal the buying and selling of ivory brought into this country legally and owned legally," he says. "This is overboard."

Supporters of the initiative, including animal rights groups and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, say the penalties are a necessary stand that the state with two of the 10 busiest ports in the U.S. must take against illegal animal poaching.

"The illegal wildlife trade has become the fourth or fifth largest transnational trade in the world, and it's gotten extremely sophisticated," says Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington. "Many of the species that are addressed in Initiative 1401 are the ones in serious trouble. It sends a very important message to the rest of the country."

If I-1401 passes, it would be the first voter-approved law of its kind in the country, according to the Seattle Times. ♦

There are no statewide initiatives on the ballot in Idaho.